Cartoon owl holding a magnifying glass. Pixelated red background. Text: Games Have Taught Us - Defending criminals

Why does the criminal justice system have defense lawyers? Why would someone defend a criminal?

A lot of articles that cover positive sides of gaming tend to focus on the question “what kind of skills can children learn by playing games”? The answers are usually things like cognitive skills, improved reaction time, coding and such.

But I believe a more important question would be: what are some concrete things that people have actually learned from gaming?

The previous post was about being unfortunate. Today, we’re diving into something this world needs a lot more:

Fairness in justice.

What is a criminal justice system?

I have two points to note before we get to the actual meat of things.

First of all, I’ll be mostly talking about a criminal system I’m mostly familiar with. Naturally, there are differences in every country, but often the basic gist in this system is the same: you have a defense lawyer and the prosecution.

Defense lawyer tries to prove the accused innocent. The prosecution attempts to prove the accused is guilty.

Secondly, I’m by no means an expert of any kind when it comes to criminal justice. The good thing is that neither I nor you have to be an expert in order to understand the reason why defense lawyers exist and why they do what they do.

Why would having defense lawyers seem so strange?

Let’s imagine that you see a mugshot of a middle-aged white man somewhere and next to it reads “rapist” or “pedophile”.

You likely think “Yeah, that guy’s guilty and should be punished in the harshest way imaginable.”

Or maybe “Good riddance. The world needs less of those people.”

And that’s why it’s important that you’re not the one making that decision.

No criminal justice system is perfect and there will always be some mistakes and corruption: criminals walking free for whatever reason. Still, it is of utmost importance that life-condemning decisions like these are kept in the hands of professionals. People who check the facts and don’t pass judgement based on pure hearsay and a person’s appearance.

Enter Ace Attorney series

Even if you haven’t heard about the Ace Attorney game series you may have heard the name Phoenix Wright. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is the game that started the series. It’s a game where you step into the shoes of a recently employed and budding defense lawyer.

A little backstory about the game’s development: the creators wanted to make the game due to how Japanese criminal system works. In Japan, the prosecution does not accuse people unless they’re very sure about their case.

The result of this is that verdicts are often handed out rather quickly and cases are often very one-sided.

Ace Attorney simulates that situation by not giving you (the player) much information at the start of trials. Meanwhile the prosecution knows mostly everything. It works surprisingly well in the game, since it means you get to unravel a mystery.

The pieces of the courtroom, according to Ace Attorney

All trials in Ace Attorney give you the impression that your client is innocent. This, despite the fact that all the presented evidence in start of the trials points otherwise.

Quickly, the game teaches you the basic goal in the game: to prove your client innocent. And your opponent is doing the opposite.

The prosecution wins if they prove that the defendant is guilty.

The defense lawyer wins if they prove that the defendant is innocent.

This premise leads you to many rousing fights in the courtroom. Especially as you face off against Miles Edgeworth, an undefeated prosecutor who has never lost a case.

Last piece of the puzzle is the judge, who makes the final decision.

Why defense lawyers are needed

To see why defense lawyers are necessary, you don’t really need to play more than the first Ace Attorney game.

Eventually the game leads you to the realization that it’s not about winning your cases.

It’s about getting to the bottom of things.

It’s about the truth.

The prosecution’s job is to find all possible evidence that points to the defendant being guilty.

The defense lawyer’s job is to find all possible evidence that points to the defendant being innocent.

Put all that evidence together and what do you get?

The ultimate truth?

Not always, but at least you’re getting as close as you can with the tools and information that is available.

Together, the defense and prosecution find out as much as they can, to get as close to the truth as they can.

That is why they are both needed.

If there was no separate prosecution and defense, the defendant would always be at the mercy of the investigator’s bias.

If only the prosecution was doing this, they would always work under the assumption that everybody being investigated is guilty.

Finally, if only defense attorneys existed, then who would do the blaming? Most likely an institution, such as the government. In that case, the defense attorneys would always be against an opponent they would have no chance against – everyone would always be guilty. (Except with rare cases where that institution deems alright to let a defendant go, just to build up a few cases that “prove” that the system is not unfair.)

An example from the real world

Biased systems have been around for a long time.

In the Late Middle Ages, people could be accused of being witches. This was a convenient way to get rid of people, especially women, who you didn’t like. Very little evidence was needed, because people were not “condemned”, they were only “put to trial”.

Conveniently, the trials were always lethal: drowning, burning at stakes…

If you survived, you were a witch and should be killed. And if you didn’t… well, you were already dead.

Today, we see these witch hunts in the social media.

An angry mob, who decides that they do not like some individual, sending death threats to someone they do not like.

There is no justice or fairness in those situations. All evidence can be hearsay and made up.

Final thoughts

The way I see it, letting a criminal walk free is not nearly as atrocious as destroying someone’s life by condemning them for a crime they never committed.

Giving people a fair trial is important.

A fair trial requires that there is someone who believes in you, despite what others may have labeled you as.

Games have taught me that I should not be the judge of who is guilty and who isn’t.

Despite having people whom I despise, it is not my place to condemn those people to punishment.

That would be very selfish of me.

And very unjust.

Gheralf H. Swiftwar

Gheralf H. Swiftwar

Crazy owlmister. Eternally attemps to find ways to prove that his thousands of hours put into video and computer games has not been just an utter waste of time.

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